War Spending: Defying or Just Posturing?

gop-spin-club Defying President Bush, House Democrats are preparing to forge ahead with a war spending measure that would include extended unemployment assistance and new educational benefits for returning veterans.

After a meeting Monday evening of House Democratic leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped to bring a $178 billion measure to the floor this week. What could be a contentious debate on the matter is likely to be held on Thursday, aides said.

Ms. Pelosi, of California, did not disclose details of the proposed bill, which will be presented to rank-and-file Democrats at a closed party session on Tuesday. But Democratic officials, who did not want to be identified since the bill was still being put into final form, said the legislative package would include provisions requiring a significant withdrawal of troops from Iraq by December 2009 and measures that would force Iraq to share more costs of its reconstruction.

Democrats also intend to make veterans eligible for new educational assistance if they have served from three months to three years or more on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The aid would be equivalent to a four-year scholarship at a public university for those with three years or more service, with payments prorated for those with less time.

Mr. Bush has steadily insisted he would not approve any legislation that exceeds his spending request for the war, sets any withdrawal deadlines or adds domestic money he opposes like the unemployment benefits. And House Republicans, angry that the measure is not going through formal committee consideration, began on Monday to open procedural attacks on the House floor in protest, forcing extra votes on noncontroversial measures.

“The Democrat leaders of the House and Senate are attempting to jam a 200-plus-billion-dollar spending bill through the Congress with absolutely no oversight or scrutiny by a vast majority of members, senators or their constituents,” Representative Jerry Lewis of California, the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement on Monday. “Never in my 30 years in Congress has there been such an abuse of the processes and rules of the House.”

Democrats said privately that they expected the provisions setting a withdrawal deadline and putting other conditions on the war money to be eliminated by the Senate before a final House vote later this spring… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <NY Times>

Impeach Of course there is no way this bill can ever get through the automatic GOP filibuster in the Senate.  Nevertheless it’s still a good idea, because it gives GOP Senators a choice to actually do something for America or come down solidly against the unemployed and veterans in the height of election season.

Representative Jerry Lewis needs help for his comedy routine from his side-kick, Dean Martin.  Throughout the GOP dominated 109th, no bill made it to committee without having first been approved by a majority of the House Repuglicans.

Think how much better it would have been if the Democratic majority in the House had wasted time with impeachment hearings instead of with posturing!

Rehabilitation Resurrected

21OSP For decades, the politics of crime has been a one-way street. Politicians competed over who could be tougher on crime, enacting mandatory minimums, abolishing parole and passing “three-strikes” laws that sent young men to prison for life for stealing a slice of pizza

…In fact, enactment of the Second Chance Act may reflect a deeper shift in the politics of crime. In the 1970s, state and federal authorities largely gave up on rehabilitating prisoners. At the same time, the war on drugs and tough-on-crime sentencing laws fueled a dramatic explosion in the nation’s prison population. From 1979 to 2005, the US incarceration rate tripled, and drug offenses went from accounting for 6 percent of the nation’s prisoners to 25 percent. Today, the United States has 2.3 million people in prison or jail, and boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world–five times higher than the next highest Western country, the United Kingdom.

But the prison boom has come home to roost. The more people we send into prison, the more people come out of prison each year. This year, between 600,000 and 700,000 prisoners will be released–without the skills or resources to get their lives back in order.

As a result, there is a renewed interest in re-entry, the twenty-first-century term for rehabilitation. The interest is first and foremost driven by community safety. If we don’t do anything to help, half of those released will be convicted for another crime within three years. We can’t afford to give up on re-entry if we want to do anything about crime.

We also can’t afford to give up rehabilitation in a more literal sense. We spent $9 billion on prisons and jails nationwide in 1982. Twenty years later, the figure was $60 billion. It costs about as much to house a prisoner for a year as it does to send a young man to an elite private university–and all prison is likely to teach him is how to commit crime again. Several states spend more on prisons than they do on higher education. Without re-entry, prison will become a revolving door

…The new federal law is part of a bigger picture. Driven by concerns about fiscal responsibility and justice, twenty-two states from 2004-06 adopted legislative and executive reforms to reduce incarceration. In 2007, nine states created task forces or commissions to address sentencing, prison overcrowding, and re-entry services.

The question now is whether the bipartisan consensus reflected in the Second Chance Act can support still further reforms. We need to reduce our reliance on overly harsh sentences at the outset, particularly for the many nonviolent offenders for whom prison is simply not necessary. And we could do much more in terms of re-entry as well. Three hundred and thirty million dollars may seem like a lot of money at first blush–until you realize that we spend more than twice that much every day on the war in Iraq.  [emphasis added]

Inserted from <The Nation>

This Thursday I’ll be spending the day in prison, working with prisoners, who never fail to inspire me with their determination to succeed as law abiding members of society.  Unless we, as a culture, decide that restoration is more important that retribution, we will all play the price for our foolishness in the form of increased crime and decreased community safety.  Especially now, with jobs scarce, prices skyrocketing, and homelessness on the rise, people with the added stigma of a recent prison term will have little chance of succeeding on the outside, unless we support their efforts to acquire the life skills necessary to do so while they are in prison and do everything possible to assist their reentry once released.  The Second Chance Act is a good start, but it’s only the beginning.

EU Set to Scrap Biofuels Target

20biofuels The European commission is backing away from its insistence on imposing a compulsory 10% quota of biofuels in all petrol and diesel by 2020, a central plank of its programme to lead the world in combating climate change.

Amid a worsening global food crisis exacerbated, say experts and critics, by the race to divert food or feed crops into biomass for the manufacture of vehicle fuel, and inundated by a flood of expert advice criticising the shift to renewable fuel, the commission appears to be getting cold feet about its biofuels target.

Under the proposals, to be turned into law within a year, biofuels are to supply a tenth of all road vehicle fuel by 2020 as part of the drive to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the same deadline.

The 10% target is “binding” under the proposed legislation. But pressed by its scientific advisers, UN authorities, leaders in Europe, non-government organisations and environmental lobbies, the commission is engaged in a rethink.

“The target is now secondary,” said a commission official, adding that high standards of “sustainability” being drafted for biofuels sourcing and manufacture would make it impossible for the target to be met.

Britain has set its own biofuels targets, which saw 2.5% mixed into all petrol and diesel fuel sold on forecourts in the UK this week. The government wants to increase that to 5% within two years, but has admitted that the environmental concerns could force them to rethink. Ruth Kelly, transport secretary, has ordered a review, which is due to report next month.

A commission source indicated that the EU executive would not object if European governments ordered a U-turn.

“This is all very sensitive and fast-moving,” said a third commission official. “There is now a lot of new evidence on biofuels and the commission has become a prisoner of this process.”

The target is being strongly criticised by the commission’s own scientific experts and environmental advisers to the EU…

Inserted from <The Guardian>

I think this is a wise move by the EU.  The US should stop subsidizing biofuels except as they are derived from agricultural waste and put the subsidies into R&D on renewable resources.

Solve Food Crisis by Changing Policies

18food Food riots are erupting all over the world. To prevent them and to help people afford the most basic of goods, we need to understand the causes of skyrocketing food prices and correct the policies that have fueled them.

World food prices rose by 39 percent in the last year. Rice alone rose to a 19-year high in March – an increase of 50 per cent in two weeks alone – while the real price of wheat has hit a 28-year high.

As a result, food riots erupted in Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. For the 3 billion people in the world who subsist on $2 a day or less, the leap in food prices is a killer. They spend a majority of their income on food, and when the price goes up, they can’t afford to feed themselves or their families.

Analysts have pointed to some obvious causes, such as increased demand from China and India, whose economies are booming. In the last thirty years, developing countries that used to be self-sufficient in food have turned into large food importers.

Rising fuel and fertilizer costs, increased use of bio-fuels and climate change have all played a part.

But less obvious causes have also had a profound effect on food prices.

Over the last few decades, the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have used their leverage to impose devastating policies on developing countries. By requiring countries to open up their agriculture market to giant multinational companies and by persuading them to specialize in exportable cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, cotton and even flowers, Washington, the IMF and the World Bank created a downward spiral.

They made matters worse by demanding the dismantling of marketing boards that kept commodities in a rolling stock to be released in event of a bad harvest. These boards shielded both producers and consumers against sharp rises or drops in prices. But the shield is no longer there.

Here’s what we must do to prevent an epidemic of starvation from breaking out.

First, it is essential to have safety nets and public distribution systems put in place. Donor countries should provide more aid immediately to support government efforts in poor countries and respond to appeals from U.N. agencies, which are desperately seeking $500 million by May 1.

Second, we should help affected countries develop their agricultural sectors to feed more of their own people and decrease their dependence on food imports.

We should promote production and consumption of local crops raised by small, sustainable farms instead of growing cash crops for Western markets.

And we should support a country’s effort to manage stocks and pricing so as to limit the volatility of food prices.

To embrace these crucial policies, however, we need to stop worshipping the golden calf of the so-called free market and embrace, instead, the principle of food sovereignty. Every country and every people have a right to food that is affordable. When the market deprives them of this, it is the market that has to give… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <The Progressive>

This is largely a Bush/GOP deal.  When poor countries grow crops for export, the cash it brings into those nations goes mostly to a few elites at the top, who are willing to exploit their own people for personal enrichment.  In return for that cash, they also allow greedy corporations, such as United Fruit, to exploit their people to make huge profits importing those foods to wealthy nations.  Food sovereignty for poor nations is a far better plan that the economic imperialism in place today.

This article missed one key point.  Since it takes as much energy and to convert corn, for example, to fuel as the energy derived from burning the fuel, subsidizing this activity does nothing to reduce dependence on foreign energy.  Since it also produces as much atmospheric carbon to do so, subsidizing this activity does nothing to combat climate change.  However, subsidizing such activity contributes significantly to the world food crisis.  If we are going to subsidize biofuels, lets subsidize the conversion of agricultural waste or non food products.

Signs of the Times: Class Warfare

The New York Times is a gold mind this morning with three good articles on the economy. In the first, here’s the latest trend in health coverage:

14signs-copay Health insurance companies are rapidly adopting a new pricing system for very expensive drugs, asking patients to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars for prescriptions for medications that may save their lives or slow the progress of serious diseases.

With the new pricing system, insurers abandoned the traditional arrangement that has patients pay a fixed amount, like $10, $20 or $30 for a prescription, no matter what the drug’s actual cost. Instead, they are charging patients a percentage of the cost of certain high-priced drugs, usually 20 to 33 percent, which can amount to thousands of dollars a month.

The system means that the burden of expensive health care can now affect insured people, too.

No one knows how many patients are affected, but hundreds of drugs are priced this new way. They are used to treat diseases that may be fairly common, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, hepatitis C and some cancers. There are no cheaper equivalents for these drugs, so patients are forced to pay the price or do without.

Insurers say the new system keeps everyone’s premiums down at a time when some of the most innovative and promising new treatments for conditions like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis can cost $100,000 and more a year.

But the result is that patients may have to spend more for a drug than they pay for their mortgages, more, in some cases, than their monthly incomes.

The system, often called Tier 4, began in earnest with Medicare drug plans and spread rapidly. It is now incorporated into 86 percent of those plans. Some have even higher co-payments for certain drugs, a Tier 5.

Now Tier 4 is also showing up in insurance that people buy on their own or acquire through employers, said Dan Mendelson of Avalere Health, a research organization in Washington. It is the fastest-growing segment in private insurance, Mr. Mendelson said. Five years ago it was virtually nonexistent in private plans, he said. Now 10 percent of them have Tier 4 drug categories.

Private insurers began offering Tier 4 plans in response to employers who were looking for ways to keep costs down, said Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents most of the nation’s health insurers. When people who need Tier 4 drugs pay more for them, other subscribers in the plan pay less for their coverage.

But the new system sticks seriously ill people with huge bills, said James Robinson, a health economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It is very unfortunate social policy,” Dr. Robinson said. “The more the sick person pays, the less the healthy person pays.”

Traditionally, the idea of insurance was to spread the costs of paying for the sick.

“This is an erosion of the traditional concept of insurance,” Mr. Mendelson said. “Those beneficiaries who bear the burden of illness are also bearing the burden of cost.”

And often, patients say, they had no idea that they would be faced with such a situation… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <NY Times>

You can bet that Big Insurance is not talking about this in those glossy brochures they use to sell their product, especially to seniors. The language will be deeply buried in the most obtuse legalese in the policies. This highlights the need for universal, single-payer health care, because more and more, Big Insurance has stacked the deck against the most needy and the most vulnerable. This new system leaves two choices… Be rich, or be screwed.

Next, Paul Krugman has some insight into why consumers have lost confidence in the economy:

rich-poor The Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan has been tracking American economic perceptions since the 1950s. On Friday the center released its latest estimate of the consumer sentiment index — and it was a stunner. Americans are more pessimistic about their situation than they have been for more than a quarter century.

Meanwhile, a recent Pew report found that the percentage of Americans saying that they’re better off than they were five years ago is at its lowest level in 44 years of polling.

What’s striking about this bleak mood is that by the usual measures the economy isn’t doing that badly — at least not yet. In particular, the official unemployment rate of 5.1 percent, though rising, is still fairly low by historical standards. Yet economic attitudes are worse now than they were in 1992, when the average unemployment rate was 7.5 percent.

Why are we feeling so down?

Our bleakness partly reflects the fact that most Americans are doing considerably worse than the usual economic measures let on. The official unemployment rate may be relatively low — but the percentage of prime-working-age Americans without jobs, which isn’t the same thing, is historically high. Gross domestic product is up, but the inflation-adjusted income of the median family is probably lower than it was in 2000.

Beyond that, perceptions of the current economy are strongly influenced by the public’s sense of the larger pattern.

When Ronald Reagan famously asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?,” the correct answer was “Yes.” Median household income, adjusted for inflation, was higher in 1980 than it had been in 1976. But gas lines and double-digit inflation made people feel that things were falling apart.

Conversely, unemployment was still historically high when Reagan proclaimed “Morning in America.” But people were ready to hear an upbeat message, because the economic storm seemed to have passed.

More recently, economic confidence held up relatively well during the 2001 recession, maybe because people were willing to see it as no more than a temporary interruption of the great 1990s boom.

A major reason we’re feeling so down now is that for working Americans the boom never did come back. Job creation in the post-2001 recovery was pathetic by Clinton-era standards; wages barely kept up with inflation. Instead, corporate profits and the incomes of a tiny elite surged — sucking up so much of the economy’s growth that only crumbs were left for everyone else.

Now the boom that wasn’t has gone bust — and Americans, understandably, have lost confidence in the prospects for a return to real prosperity… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <NY Times>

Bush/McConJob/GOP economics succeed only at shifting wealth from the pockets of the poor and middle classes into those of the super rich and huge greedy corporations.

Now here’s how the super rich are enjoying those gains:

14signs-ultrarich Who said anything about a recession? Sometime between the government bailout of Bear Stearns and the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that America lost 80,000 jobs in March, Lee Tachman spent roughly $50,000 last month on a four-day jaunt to Miami for himself and three close friends.

Karen Kennedy with her designer, Richard W. Gold. Ms. Kennedy is combining two apartments on the Upper West Side.

The trip was an exercise in luxuriant male bonding. Mr. Tachman, who is 38, and his friends got around by private jet, helicopter, Hummer limousine, Ferraris and Lamborghinis; stayed in V.I.P. rooms at Casa Casuarina, the South Beach hotel that was formerly Gianni Versace’s mansion; and played “extreme adventure paintball” with former agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Mr. Tachman, a manager for a company that executes trades for hedge funds and the owner of “a handful” of buildings in New York, said he has not felt the need to cut back.

“I always feel like there’s a sword of Damocles over my head, like it could all come crashing down at any time,” he said. “But there’s always going to be people who are trading, and there’s always going to be a demand for real estate in New York.”

He is hardly alone in his eagerness to keep spending. Some businesses that cater to the superrich report that clients — many of them traders and private equity investors whose work is tied to Wall Street — are still splurging on multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartments, custom-built yachts, contemporary art and lavish parties.

Buyers this year have already closed on 71 Manhattan apartments that each cost more than $10 million, compared with 17 apartments in that price range during all of 2007. Last week, a New York art dealer paid a record $1.6 million for an Edward Weston photograph at Sotheby’s. And the GoldBar, a downtown lounge, reports that bankers continue to order $3,000 bottles of Rémy Martin Louis XIII Cognac.

“When times get tough, the smart spend money,” said David Monn, an event planner who is organizing a black-tie party on May 10 for dignitaries and recent purchasers of apartments at the Plaza Hotel; the average price there was $7 million. “Short of our country going on food stamps, I don’t think we’re doing anything differently.”

Some extreme spenders say they have not cut back on their impulse Bentley or apartment purchases because they have made so much money in the good times from the Internet, stock market and real estate. Some have been able to move their money into investments like private equity that are available only to those with extensive capital. Some rationalize cars and home renovations as “investments.” And some simply don’t want to skimp on the weddings and anniversary parties that they see as milestone events… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <NY Times>

Personally, I feel angry to see such obscene conspicuous consumption at a time when so many have to do without so much. These are the people who received over 90% of the benefit from the Bush/GOP tax cuts.

Seven years of GOP tyranny have transformed the US into two societies. There is free enterprise for the poor. They may help themselves in any way they can, on their own, as long as they can find some way to circumvent a system designed to transfer what little they have to the rich. There is socialism for the rich, as they often pay far less in taxes than middle class taxpayers. The GOP has aided the super rich in class warfare against the rest of us. They have created an economic pyramid that is so top heavy that the capstone is crushing the base.

McConJob supports the economic policies of the Bush Reich. I don’t care how angry you are at Clinton. I don’t care how much you dislike Obama. Given the certainty that a McConJob victory will collapse our economy, a vote in November for anyone other that the winner between Clinton and Obama is an act of economic suicide.

Cross-posted from Politics Plus

GOP Government Credit Card Misuse Found

9creditcard Federal employees charged millions of dollars for Internet dating, tailor-made suits, lingerie, lavish dinners and other questionable expenses to their government credit cards over 15 months, Congressional auditors say.

A report by the Government Accountability Office, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, examined spending controls across the federal government in 2005 and 2006 after reports of credit-card abuse at some departments.

The review found that nearly 41 percent of roughly $14 billion in purchases — legitimate or questionable — did not follow procedure, because they were unauthorized or improperly received.

In a sample of purchases totaling $2.7 million, the government could not account for hundreds of computers, iPods and cameras worth more than $1.8 million. The Army could not locate computer items making up 16 server configurations, each of which cost nearly $100,000.

The report calls for the General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget, both of which help administer the credit-card program, to improve accounting, particularly for electronic equipment that could be easily stolen.

Both agencies agreed with parts of the report, but the G.S.A. administrator, Lurita Doan, said that the vast majority of federal employees used their cards properly… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <NY Times>

F-LOOP This is not the first time Lurita Doan has appeared on these pages. Read how she paid a buddy $20000 for a 24 page report HERE. read how she criminally politicized the GSA, using agency resources for GOP partisan purposes HERE, HERE and HERE. No doubt the GOP will claim that this is just a few bad apples, but given the overall corruption of the GSA under the GOP Reich, is it any wonder that employees there have so little respect for that law that $1.8 million out of a $2.7 million sample, that is 67%, was bogus? This is what McConJob and the GOP have to offer. More of the same.

Cross-posted from Politics Plus

GOP Leads in Earmarks

GOPigs Congressional conservatives have waged a high-profile war on earmarks this year, only to be undermined by conservatives who enjoy their pet projects. Today, Citizens Against Government Waste released their 2008 Pig Book, a database of earmarks used in the 110th Congress. The top earmarkers? Republicans:

In the House, Republicans have attacked Democratic Rep. John Murtha for delivering a pile of special-interest funds to his western Pennsylvania district.

But according to the report, two House Republicans bested Murtha: Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who recently became a U.S. senator, and Rep. Bill Young of Florida. The two scored $176.3 million and $169.5 million in earmarks respectively, beating Murtha’s $159.1 million.

In the Senate, the top three big spenders were Republicans, who together scored about $1.8 billion in home-state projects. Those senators are: Thad Cochran, the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Ted Stevens of Alaska

… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Think Progress>

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Blaming the opposition for offenses of which the GOP is most guilty is a standard tactic of the Bush/McConJob/GOP Reich. When your brain-dead sheeple acquaintances parrot this GOP talking point, now you have specific information with which to refute their propaganda.

Cross-posted from Politics Plus